“The title of the article should be, ‘Hard to get him to sit still.’”
It’s a sunny, slushy afternoon in February, and Color Red co-founder Zachary Bloom is in the mood to editorialize. He’s referring to fellow co-founder Eddie Roberts, who has just sprung from his chair to let members of the Mike Dillon Band into Color Red’s house-slash-headquarters just north of City Park on Colorado Boulevard.
It’s all happening very last-minute, though that’s not unusual for Color Red. The previous night, Roberts offered a bedroom to a touring DJ at Cervantes' who found himself snowbound. Between three bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen and dining room on the main floor, there’s plenty of space. The beating heart of the music distribution company, aka the control room and recording studio, is located in the basement.
It’s all close together, and it’s all intentional. Roberts’s vision for Color Red centered on a space where musicians could not only write and record, but also stay the night. Recent guests include members of Freekbass, who collaborated with Roberts for the second half of a forthcoming album. Roberts engineered and produced the session, then ended up playing guitar on several tracks.
If retro soul has a look, Eddie Roberts fits the part. He’s tall, with coiffed hair and a neatly trimmed beard. On stage, he wears paisley shirts and tailored blazers behind his 1965 Gibson 330. He left his native Wales in 1989 at age eighteen to study jazz at Leeds College of Music, started the first incarnation of the Mastersounds. In 1999 he recruited fellow Leeds scenesters to create the New Mastersounds, initially meant to complement DJ sets at the Cooker.
Twenty odd years and a slew of studio and live records later, Roberts and company — a core lineup of four players, plus a rotating cast of guest musicians — are settling nicely into musical middle age. Roberts is the only member living stateside, and he commutes between Denver and Washington, D.C., where his wife is studying law at Georgetown University. He jokes that he’s merely a dutiful house husband while in D.C., though he’s sincerely grateful for the time away to focus on mixing and mastering.
“It’s quite nice being able to go into D.C. right now and step out of it for a second. I don’t know anyone there, which is great. I know too many people here,” he says with a laugh.
Nevertheless, members of the New Mastersounds remain individually and collectively prolific, having just released a full-length followup to 2016's live-in-studio album The Nashville Session. Their forthcoming record, which the band debuted live and in its entirety at an Ogden show last December, is currently being mixed. Once released, it will be the New Mastersounds' first full-length album on Color Red.
But Color Red isn't just a vehicle for Roberts’s music. When he moved to Denver four years ago, he was gobsmacked to discover the quality and breadth of the jam community — and subsequently determined to harness it off stage.
“I saw all this amazing stuff going on, and there was nobody capturing it. There was nothing representing the scene here,” he says. “I just thought it was something that the world should see, should hear.”
So he consulted Bloom, then living in New York and working as a product manager at TuneCore, a digital music distribution and publishing firm. Bloom agreed to move to Denver and handle the digital side of things. “I wouldn’t have even attempted this if I didn’t have Zach,” says Roberts. “I know how to make good music, I know how to make it quick, I’ve got a great network, I’ve got good ideas and visions for it, but in terms of getting it out, how to monetize YouTube, I have no clue — and I don’t want to have a clue.”
With Bloom officially on board, Roberts forged ahead with his idea: to create a full-fledged media platform of original soul and funk releases available to stream and (in certain cases) purchase on vinyl, accompanied by in-session video, interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes. There are no exclusive contracts, Roberts signs off on every single release, and Color Red maintains a steady stream, dropping one new track each week.
As for a model, Roberts’s strategy for Color Red is akin to that of longstanding jazz establishment Blue Note Records or Jack White’s Third Man Records, distinguished in that their fan bases revolve around a trust in the label’s taste over any individual roster artist’s work.
“We’re trying to sell music on the strength of the label and the brand so that people recognize Color Red as quality, as a go-to, as a tastemaker kind of label,” Roberts says. “You go into a store and you see a Blue Note record. You buy it because it’s a Blue Note record. You go, ‘Yeah, I’ve never heard of this sax player.’ Then you put it on and it's amazing, of course, because it’s Blue Note Records.”
Like Blue Note, Color Red is branding itself through deliberate aesthetic unity, both visual and aural. Every single Color Red release is recorded straight to a Tascam 388, an eight-track tape recorder with a cult following among producers. Roberts claims it captures the immediate live feeling inherent to great funk while rounding out the drum sound.
Mike Tallman, the company's creative director, designs the record covers, with the sleek Color Red logo, bold typography, ’60s and ’70s color palettes, and retro design schemes. Analog Son’s Funky Mother channels the psychedelic concert posters of the Summer of Love, while Bobby’s Boogaloo, by W.R.D., a collaboration of Roberts, Break Science drummer Adam Deitch and Greyboy Allstars keyboardist Robert Walter, mimics the classic Christmas album covers of the ’50s.
Beyond one-off releases, Roberts is expanding the brand into special long-term projects released over a series of months. The first, Death by Dub, brings together a local reggae supergroup including musicians from Elephant Wrecking Ball and the Motet. The second, Electric Beethoven, is a Reed Mathis-helmed thought experiment reimagining Beethoven's work as though the composer were alive, well and working in a contemporary jam scene. Each project puts out one track per month.
Roberts says these projects are just the beginning. In the pipeline: live events, remixes from international producers meant to meld the worlds of electronic and funk, more special series and possibly some version of a subscription model for committed listeners. Not that Roberts got into this business to get rich.
“I don’t think you can ever make music with the idea of making money. You make music because you want to make music. And if you make money out of it, so be it,” he says. “I’ve done well out of it. I’ve sustained a great living for 25 years. But I’ve done it by focusing on making music, not focusing on making money. We’ll see if I manage to run this company.”